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Build an Organizational Culture that Deconstructs Silos

By: Guest | July 17, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by John Trader

Working directly with international markets during the past few years has broadened my perspective on a number of things.

It’s given me the opportunity to learn and understand the structure and nuances of many different business cultures outside of my own.

And I’ve noticed something about the way some companies are built in the U.S.

I realized individualism, one of the fundamental principles our culture is built on could possibly be the largest impediment to deconstructing the silos that reemerged following our most recent economic downturn.

In other words, the focus on independence in the U.S. vs. interdependence in other foreign cultures can often be a serious roadblock to opening doors that foster communication integration – a factor many believe to be the key to success in the modern economy.

In the early 1980’s, Geert Hofsetdee, a Dutch researcher in the fields of organizational studies, organizational culture, cultural economics, and management developed a research model by aggregating individuals as societal units to determine values on which cultures vary.

Although somewhat controversial, his conclusions were that some cultures (like the U.S.) see the individual as the most important being and reward individual achievement while valuing the uniqueness of the individual as a key pillar of collective values.

Conversely, and from what I have observed directly from working with other cultures, is the collectivist mentality which places the views, needs, and goals of a group as a priority over where people define themselves in relation to others.

Most of these cultures focus on cooperation, not competition, as a strategic business objective. This is very evident in the way they act, speak, and cultivate their business alliances. Very rarely do I run into an organization that is hampered by silos or clogged by the inability to openly communicate.

An article written in Vanity Fair, called Microsoft’s Lost Decade,” describes a corporate culture based on a concept called “stack ranking.” It’s a concept that “forces every business unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor…” You know: The 10/80/10 rule.

Stack ranking effectively stifled innovation and is arguably one of the main reasons the company slipped and faltered while Apple and Google flourished because they were built on a culture of open communication and unbridled creativity.

That’s a pretty compelling case study  on how encouraging a competitive, individualistic business environment virtually crumbled a once feared titan of the industry, don’t you think?

Assuming my theory is correct and moving more towards collectivism would help to break down silos, how do we shift our business culture to be less individualistic? The answer may be far more difficult than it appears. It just may lie in how we are raised:

In a psychological experiment conducted by renowned social psychology expert Richard Nisbett, comments from both American and East Asian students were recorded after they were shown an underwater scene. The American students focused their comments on the individual fish in the scene and the East Asian students discussed more holistic elements of the scene including details of the landscape as well as the fish.

“East Asians focus on relationships while Westerners tend to see isolated objects rather than the connections between them.”

Based on this and other similar studies about the differences between American and foreign cultures, it’s feasible to surmise that effective ways to curb individualism in American business culture need to start when we are young.

What are your thoughts on individualism in American business culture? Can you share some of your observations of the factors that may lead to business silos?

John Trader is a public relations and marketing manager with M2SYS Technology , a recognized industry leader in biometric identity management technology. He has PR and marketing experience working in the financial, publishing, non-profit, entertainment, sales training, and technology sectors. Currently living in Atlanta, he is an avid NHL fan and high school lacrosse coach. He also blogs over at PRBreakfastClub.com. You can follow him on Twitter at John_Trader1.

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